Gluten-free baking 101
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
The first time I baked a gluten-free cake was on the eve of my brother’s 16th birthday. I had recently found out I had celiac disease and my family decided they would all support my new lifestyle by choosing a party dessert I could enjoy as well.
Well, my friends, I can easily say not a single one of us “enjoyed” that cake when we sat down to eat it on the day of my brother’s celebration. I painfully watched as he sliced through the chocolate icing I had spent hours preparing, his bicep flexing as he attempted to push the knife through the dessert. We all took a bite and, even though everyone attempted to say the cake was a hit, I knew from my first bite there was nothing delicious about chewing a morsel of cake 49 freaking times.
It was a gluten-free fail, sweet peas.
Since that day, I can safely say I’ve learned a thing or two about gluten-free baking and the truly delicious desserts that can be created without the addition of wheat, barley, rye or oats.
Take a cue from my advice, cupcakes, and I promise you’ll lessen your chances of crumbly cookies, sinking cakes and loaves of bread that turn out completely raw in the middle. (Gross, right?)
1. Don’t touch the cookies. Seriously, leave them alone. The general baking rule of thumb is to remove cookies from a baking sheet and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack. When it comes to gluten-free cookies, go ahead and leave ’em on the baking sheet for five to 10 minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to fully cool. The average gluten-free cookie can be a bit delicate when it first pops out of the oven, so letting it settle for a bit will give you complete dunk-able cookies. And who wouldn’t want that?
2. Watch out for flour substitutions. Sure, you love Great Aunt Mildred’s recipe for carrot cake, but it’s chockfull of glutenous flours that will hurt your precious belly. Before you go ahead and substitute the flour for any ol’ gluten-free option, you may want to consider what kind you are using first. The general rule of thumb is to make a gluten-free mixture by creating a blend of gluten-free flours and starches. That means brown rice, white rice, sorghum, quinoa, almond and other flours often work best when blended with a bit of starch, like potato, arrowroot or tapioca. Discover a blend that works best for you and your baked goods will turn out sinfully tasty.
3. Turn down the temp in the kitchen. Gluten-free goodies tend to bake a little fast on the outside edges while remaining a little soft in the center. If you notice this is happening, then decrease the oven temperature by 20 – 25 degrees. You might also want to try lightly placing a sheet of foil on top of cupcakes or brownies that are baking too fast; this will help the center to bake while keeping the edges from completely charring.
4. Don’t be afraid to spice up. Gluten-free flours have a tendency to taste a bit … ummm … shall we say, harsh? (Have you ever tried straight up chickpea flour? Yeah, don’t.) Mask the flavors that come hand-in-hand with gluten-free mixes by adding vanilla extract (make sure it’s gluten-free), cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices that can make chocolate cake or apple pie taste like magic.
All in all, keep those pretty smiles on your faces. The truth is – you’re gonna make some fairly crappy desserts in the process of learning how to bake gluten-free. Keep in mind some baked goods can be recycled – for example, flat bread makes awesome bread crumbs – and others are better off friends with the bottom of the garbage can.
My gluten-free guffaw went down in history as the worst thing I’ve ever baked, but it also provides a rather funny story that my family likes to recount on a regular basis.
It’s OK, darlings, go ahead and giggle. I laugh about it now, too.
Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the author of The Gluten-Free Revolution and a certified health coach. She is also the author of the popular gluten-free blog, sincerelycaroline.com. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at